The death of Terri Schiavo

It was an eruption in the landscape of America, but far beyond these shores her death six years ago by starvation and dehydration set a new marker for how people treat people who are cognitively impaired, but not dying…

It was the beginning of the change in how we think about dying and life.

Immersing my hands in budding greenery, inhaling the earthy scents—it helped to chase away, for a few moments, the looming death which occupied my mind. Later that evening, watching my sister’s pink newborn suck on his tiny fists, I smiled; it was a welcome break from the tragedy that was flooding the airwaves, and leaving me feeling panicked.

Terri Schindler Schiavo was being dehydrated to death in Florida, and I took it very personally.

The non-stop talk about Schiavo, and the almost blithe way her life was being reduced to what she could “do”—as though her value as a human being hinged upon her utility—had meaning in my life.

It did in the consciousness of America, too. Like those exceptional moments in our history when tragic drama stuck the whole nation, and we remember with acute awareness the details. It was wrenching.

I fought pain in my stomach as I listened to Sean Hannity report from Schiavo’s hospice in Florida. What was a woman my age doing in a hospice, anyway? Until her husband had won a battle to remove her feeding tube, Terri Schiavo had not been dying. After his victory, though, even an act of Congress wasn’t enough to save her life.

Books have been written on this saga, but mine has not yet recounted the details of what should have been a legal case the Supreme Court could not reject…at the risk of going down on historical record for responsibility in a citizen’s death. The details are too dramatic for fiction.

I’ve heard so many such tales from my nurse friend, Nancy Valko, for so many years, I would wonder whether we were irretrivably over the cliff at this point….were it not for invincible hope.

To put it in biblical terms which applies nature’s terms, it takes death to bring about new life.

While some are vigilantly tending the garden.


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